London: 10 Fun Non-Olympics Things to Do

London is in a state. At this point in the labored lead-up to the Olympics, many Londoners would probably tell you, if pressed, that they would prefer that their city not be hosting the Olympics in the first place. The tenor of the local press has been largely negative – sluggish immigration processing at Heathrow, security firm screw-ups, anticipated traffic and public transit delays, and a general crankiness have all contributed to the overall mood. Of course, many Londoners are looking forward to the big shebang, which begins on Friday. They’re just quieter about their feelings.

Beyond the Olympic pageantry, London is still London. This week, the city is actually threatening to be glorious, with summer appearing finally to have arrived. Here are ten suggestions for taking advantage of summer 2012 in London: new amusements, old standbys and summer specials.

1. Ride the Emirates Air Line (£3.20 with an Oyster Card; £4.30 flat fare). Opened in late June, the Emirates Air Line sails across the Thames in East London, traveling a distance of one kilometer at a maximum altitude of 305 feet. It’s gimmicky but fun – literally a cheap thrill.

2. Eat at Shrimpy’s. Reservations at the sister restaurant of Bethnal Green’s fantastic Bistrotheque have been tough to get, which is no reason not to try to get in. Tip: The bar seats walk-ins.

3. Go to Bristol. Bristol is a cute, hilly city, right next to charming Bath but with much less expensive hotels, about an hour and 45 minutes from London by train. Advance round-trip train tickets can be purchased for as little as £20.

4. Take an Unseen Tour. These tours, led by homeless and former homeless Londoners, reveal corners and aspects of the city that don’t make it into most tourist literature. Most tours cost £10.

5. Visit Broadway Market on Sundays. East London’s best weekend market sells fresh produce, artisanal organic food and various essential hipster lifestyle goods every Saturday; during the Olympics, the market will also operate on Sundays.6. Enjoy free entertainment. Through the end of September, More London Free Festival, a popular festival will provide free quality amusements at the Scoop. Through August 5, the focus is on theater, with performances Thursday through Sunday. Music takes over as primary focus from August 8 through 31, with free performances Wednesday through Friday.

7. Take a nap under a tree at Lincoln’s Inn Fields. This beautiful park with plenty of tree cover is a stone’s throw from Soho. Best of all, it can be nearly empty on weekend afternoons.

8. Look at photographs. Another London, an exhibition of international photographers capturing the capital, opens Friday July 27 at Tate Britain. Admission is £10.

9. Walk Regent’s Canal. Start at Limehouse and walk until you’re ready to rest. The canal’s path is particularly lively on weekends. It passes through some of London’s most dynamic neighborhoods, too. Stop at Towpath Café in Hoxton for a delightful snack.

10. Find summer inspiration elsewhere. Tired of London, Tired of Life is a wonderfully suggestive blog with daily activity ideas. Londonist is good, too.

[Image of Regent’s Canal: Ewan-M | Flickr]

I Miss The ‘Crap’ English Weather

I’ve just returned from a five-day trip to England, in which we saw the sun for an aggregate of about 15 minutes, but I miss the English weather already. It’s supposed to be 102 today in Washington, D.C., and 104 tomorrow. Factoring in the heat index, it will feel like a place well within easy commuting distance of hell.

June went down as the wettest June in the U.K. since rainfall records began to be recorded in 1910, with over 5.7 inches of rain. The British newspaper The Independent also noted other “lousy” and “disappointing” characteristics of the June weather: it was also the second least sunny June, with only 119 hours of sunshine, and also the coolest since 1991.

Given Britain’s reputation for wet, cool weather, the fact that records were set is saying something. But at least the Brits have a good sense of humor about their miserable weather. Reuters reports that Belgium is considering taking legal action against a weather service that made a long term forecast for a rainy summer on the Belgian coast.I was at Wimbledon last Monday in the rain and I asked a security guard I was chatting with if June had seemed especially dismal to him.

“You can always count on crap weather here,” he said. “That’s why you find the English on holiday in Spain, Greece and anywhere else where the sun shines.”

The Brits are so accustomed to bad weather that the Guardian’s weather map for the U.K. (see above) included the following key icons last week: showers, heavy showers, light rain, rain, thundery rain, thundery showers, overcast/dull, mostly cloudy and sunny intervals. How’s that for crap weather? In the States, we just get showers, rain or thunderstorms on our weather maps.

Five years ago, on a mid summer retreat to Newfoundland, the coldest place I could find within 1,000 miles of my home, we encountered a similarly gloomy, yet very detailed forecast. We were driving up to a town called Twillingate and heard a weather forecast on the radio that had us in tears. The presenter used the words “patchy fog, patchy drizzle” and “patches of patchy fog and patchy drizzle,” over and over and over again to describe the forecast in every town in Newfoundland, which has a climate almost as bad as the U.K.

“Why doesn’t he just save time and say the weather sucks in the whole province?” my wife asked, quite sensibly.

With the Olympic Games set to begin in London on July 27, one can’t help but wonder how much Britain’s notoriously wet weather will impact the events. According to a story in the Associated Press, five weather forecasters will be “embedded with the games and working around the clock, providing long- and short-range forecasts for the event.” But they could have 100 forecasters and it isn’t going to change the gloomy reality that the athletes can probably expect wet weather.

And yet, I rather prefer the chilly gloom to baking in the heat and humidity we have here in Washington. For those of us who call this place home, we’re more or less stuck here, but I feel compelled to pose a polite, yet pointed question to the tourist hordes that come here every year in July and August: why? What the hell are you thinking? Washington is wonderful in the spring and fall and miserable in the middle of summer.

Call me crazy but I’ll take 62 degrees and drizzle over 104 with humidity any day.

London Olympics 2012: One year to go celebrated today

The 12-month countdown to the greatest sporting show on earth is under way this week as London reaches the one year to go mark for the 2012 summer Olympics. Today, Olympic athletes from across Europe come together at a star-studded day marking the occasion along with fans invited to Eurostar’s London 2012 Olympic celebrations.

Over the last few months, thousands of Olympic fans have entered competitions to win the chance to be part of Eurostar’s ‘One year to go’ celebrations. Arriving from countries including France, and Belgium, competition winners and athletes will be joined by winners from the UK to be greeted by double world champion and Olympic silver medalist Colin Jackson and others then join them in having their foot prints cast in clay as they symbolically mark the first steps on the way to the 2012 Games

“This is such a wonderful opportunity for members of the public to experience the London 2012 Olympic Games firsthand” Jackson told the Hillingdon Times.

.Following a welcome speeches from dignitaries, winners will then be transported to a celebration lunch held at an London restaurant with stunning views over the Olympic Park where Jackson will be their host for the remainder of their unique experience.

As the Official International Rail Services Provider to London 2012, Eurostar will bring hundreds of thousands of sports fans from the continent to London.

Flickr photo by spcbrass

Tickets for 2012 London Olympics now on sale

Tickets for the 2012 Olympics in London officially went on sale today. With only 499 days remaining until the opening ceremony, it seems that now is a reasonable time to start jockeying for seats. According to CNN, the public will have six weeks (until April 26) to place bids on the full portfolio of events. A total of 6.6 million seats are available.

Accessibility and a level playing field are the common themes of the ticket distribution scheme. 90% of the available tickets will cost less than £100, with the range being from a paltry £20 to an arbitrarily cheeky sounding £2012. Each individual is entitled to apply for up to 20 sessions or events.

The balloting system does now reward those that register early or punish those that procrastinate until the final days of ticket registration. In the likely event that a surplus of tickets are sold, a ballot will determine ticket distribution. Here is a great primer on all of the details.

The chairman of the 2012 Olympics called this ticket scheme, “the daddy of all ticketing strategies.” I totally agree. I rest easy knowing that those that pounced on the opportunity like pack of Harar Hyenas have no measurable advantage over casual dawdlers that will quietly register on April 24. All tickets can be purchased on the official website of the 2012 Olympics.

flickr image via Ariaski

Cable cars to cross the Thames

London has been preparing for the 2012 Olympics by going on a huge building boom. Sports facilities have been sprouting up like mushrooms, and the organizers have just announced the latest planned addition–cable car rides over the Thames.

The cable cars will run from the Greenwich peninsula to the Royal Docks, connecting the O2 Arena (formerly the Millennium Dome) and the ExCel Exhibition Centre, both of which will host numerous Olympic events. Trips will take five minutes and the system can accommodate 2,500 people per hour in each direction. This will ease the burden on London’s transport system, which is already overburdened on regular days and which is scrambling to find ways to deal with the invasion of sports fans in 2012.

The route is too far from central London for passengers to clearly see famous sights such as Tower Bridge and Big Ben, but they’ll get fine views of the green hills of Greenwich Park and the impressive O2 arena, plus the high-rise business center of Canary Wharf. After the crowds and noise of the big city, soaring 50 meters over the Thames sounds pretty relaxing.

If you’re headed to Europe and you want to go for a ride right now, try the cable cars in Madrid.